By Ananthakrishnan G

In its plea, the Indian Medical Association had accused Patanjali of carrying out a smear campaign against modern medicine and vaccination.

The Supreme Court issued contempt of court notice Tuesday to Patanjali Ayurveda and its Director Acharya Balkrishna for allegedly flouting an undertaking given to the court not to come out with any advertisement about its drugs and to desist from making statements against “any system of medicine”.
The bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah also restrained the company from advertising or branding of products made by it for treating diseases/conditions as laid down in Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, 1954, and the rules framed under it.
It “cautioned… the respondent and its officers… from making any statements adverse to any system of medicine in the media (both print and electronic) in any form as undertaken by them on the last date”.
Justice Amanullah asked what the Ministry of Ayush had done about the complaints on “misleading advertisements” since the petition was filed two years ago. “The entire country has been taken for a ride. You shut your eyes!… For two years, you wait for this important thing when the Drugs Act itself says it’s prohibited?” he said
In its plea, the Indian Medical Association had accused Patanjali of carrying out a smear campaign against modern medicine and vaccination.
Hearing it on November 21, 2023, a bench presided by Justice Amanullah had recorded a statement of Patanjali counsel that “henceforth there shall not be any violation of any law(s), especially relating to advertising or branding of products manufactured and marketed by it and, further, that no statements claiming medicinal efficacy or against any system of medicine will be released to the media in any form” and said that the company “is bound down to such assurance”.
On Tuesday, Senior Advocate P S Patwalia, appearing for IMA, told the court that the company had continued to issue advertisements about the efficacy of its medicines and that this was prohibited under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act.
Taking up the matter in the morning, Justice Amanullah asked how the company could make such claims. Hearing it in the afternoon, Justice Amanullah asked what the Ayush ministry had done about it since the petition was filed 2 years ago.
Patwalia said, “The very next day (after the order), he (Baba Ramdev) holds a press conference and severely criticises that order.” He said he will submit the video clip to the court.
He referred to an advertisement issued by Patanjali in December last year. It said, “we have a database of more than one crore patients, completely cured of their diseases. Self-evidence is given by lakhs of people. Real world evidence, clinical evidence. Question: Can diseases like BP, sugar, thyroid, arthritis, asthma, be only kept under control? Or is it possible to completely cure these diseases? Answer: You see, popular system of medicine has such a principle that… although diseases can be controlled, they cannot be cured, because drug manufacturing companies do not have that research. But this is the problem of allopathy. With the integrated treatment of yoga, ayurveda and naturopathy, we have completely cured lakhs of people of diseases like BP, sugar, thyroid, arthritis, asthma”, Patwalia submitted, adding “the Act goes for a complete toss”.
Justice Kohli said the court is only concerned about the last order and how that has been followed. Patwalia said, despite the November 21 order, “he is going on releasing these medicinal efficacy statements and he is advertising his products along with that”.
He said advertisements of such claims about diabetes, blood pressure, obesity, asthma etc are prohibited under Section 3 of Act.
The senior counsel said the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) had been receiving “multiple complaints” about Patanjali’s advertisements and that the Council had “upheld” some of these.
Justice Kohli asked “when you say they were upheld, what were these complaints?” She also asked senior advocate Vipin Sanghi, who appeared for the company, when it had taken any consequential action in response to the Council “upholding” the complaints, “that your competitors are trying to berate you in public?”
Sanghi explained that ASCI is only a self-regulatory body and its recommendations have “no consequence in law”.
Patwalia said Patanjali subsequently filed a suit before the Bombay High Court seeking damages to the tune of Rs 50 crore.
Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General K M Nataraj, referring to the provisions of the Act, said that in case a violation is established, it is the respective state government which has the power to act.
“We have been trying to get data and details whether such complaints have been filed, and what are the steps that have been taken. The consultation is going on,” he said, seeking more time to file a detailed response. “If there is a violation, they are definitely bound to answer it,” he said.
Justice Kohli asked “What kind of consultation has been undertaken by you and which are the authorities with whom you have consulted?”.
Nataraj said, “Ayush ministry is the nodal ministry… There are four stages. One is granting permission. Number two is marketing. Third is the violation. Fourth, whether it meets the standards or not, that is testing all these things… So it requires effective consultation with four different agencies.”
At one stage, Justice Amanullah said the court wanted to issue contempt notices to the “two persons” (Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna) whose photographs had appeared in the advertisement.
It subsequently issued notice to only Patanjali and Acharya Balkrishna.

Courtesy : Indian Express

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